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Collective Intelligence May Improve Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Breast cancer is one of the leading types of cancer facing women in the United States and the world. With thousands of patients diagnosed with this disease annually throughout the world, it’s also gained the dubious distinction of being one of the most deadly forms.

While early screening procedures, such as mammograms, have greatly enhanced doctors’ abilities to tackle this disease effectively, errors do exist. The current protocol for assessing mammogram images in Europe, for example, involves two physicians reviewing the results to make a diagnosis. While effective, the error rate is too high for many. An estimated 20 percent of breast cancers are missed by using a two-doctor panel and an estimated 20 percent of diagnoses made turn out to be false positives.

Enter the swarm intelligence approach. This involves using a panel of more than two doctors to review X-rays and vote on a diagnosis. The effectiveness of taking such an approach for improving breast cancer screening was recently studied by clinicians in Berlin. There researchers found that increasing the panel size also dramatically improved the accuracy of results. False positives went down and so did missed cancers. The results ultimately showed that accuracy improved with additional assessments, but was especially improved when 8 to 10 doctors took part.

Whether the medical profession adopts the collective intelligence approach or not the study sheds light on the importance of gaining second opinions. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer or suspect they may have it are urged to undergo screening. Results should be checked by the primary doctor on the case and it is absolutely okay for women to seek out other opinions, as well.

Breast cancer is often highly treatable when caught in its earliest phases. Women are urged to undergo routine evaluation for this disease, including self-examinations and mammography.

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